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Friday, August 30, 2013

Worst Actors - Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry.
Tyler Perry has had a rough life.  I empathize with him, but I will not and cannot let that background effect my opinion of his work. I have heard, from one member of, one of Tyler Perry’s films compared to a minstrel show.  I found this to be a little extreme, but I do respect those guys and enjoy their opinions, and I can see how one can view his over-the-top, cliche-driven storytelling as more than a little offensive.

Tyler Perry escaped his rough upbringing and his reportedly abusive father to become a writer.  He was inspired by Oprah… I guess.  Now, go ahead and call me a skeptic, but Oprah more or less made this man, so I would not put it past her to fabricate some sort of influence on her part to take some credit for his “success”.  I’m not making any accusations, but I smell bullshit somewhere, and it’s not me.  I checked.  Twice.

Perry’s rise seemed far too rapid to be truly organic.  You hear about writers and filmmakers struggling in the indie scene for years before breaking out, yet Tyler Perry went from playwright to writer, director and star of major motion pictures in just under seven years.  Somebody was pulling some strings somewhere.  It certainly is not because he is the next Quentin Tarantino (who is not that great of an actor either, but is a stellar filmmaker); No, I attribute it more to a brush of luck and more than a little help from "someone" with a lot of influence.  

Perry’s first line of films were straight-to-video but were rather successful.  Services like Netflix and Vudu had not yet made video stores entirely irrelevant, so independent releases were still getting rated by rentals.  Perry entered the scene with his trademark character: the old-school, loudmouth matriarch Madea.  Madea’s Family Reunion is… well, it’s horrendous.  We get lots of typical jokes at characters' expense, mixed with heavy-handed family drama, likely stemming from Perry’s own life experiences.

Tyler Perry has been quite successful at pandering to a family-values black audience. This is a fine goal as a number of filmmakers made good careers out of pandering. However, there is still something about Perry’s own unique blend of dull, one dimensional writing, bland bored-as-all-hell acting and his utter refusal to not be the center of attention in any one scene, despite his complete lack of charisma, that makes him an easy target for detractors.  He wants recognition.  Oh, he’s recognizable, but not for the reasons he wishes.

Tyler Perry has maintained a certain level of financial success over the years, with his Madea movies still bringing in revenue and his supporting performances subsidizing his less successful ventures.  However, in 2007 we saw just how bad things could get.  Why Did I Get Married? is one of Perry’s stories he wrote very early on, adapted to stage and then rewrote for the big screen.  Of course, he has top-billing in this steaming heap and he takes 100% of the blame for just how absolutely awful this movie is.  This dull, boring, self-indulgent piece of crap was meant to be a strong piece of introspection, but turned out to be a big hanging piece of something else.  We are supposed to empathize and sympathize, but the characters in the story are indistinguishable from one another. This is due to Perry’s obvious inability to write for characters outside of his limited experiences, and thus they are all mere reflections of himself.  This further accentuates his arrogance, which shines in every role and every line of dialogue.

Tyler Perry’s next big attempt at depth was the film For Colored Girls, which is kind of like poorly-dramatized, all-black Vagina Monologues. However, we do not hear the words of women with strong feminist views, espousing gender equality, vulnerability and strength in mixed scenes. No, instead we get a commentary on social justice and a heavy-handed slap across the face if you do not fall into the film's very narrow market demographic.  Just listen to a freaking Beyonce album instead. It's shorter and, surprisingly, a lot less painful. There was no demand for this film to reach a mass audience, and the reception was overwhelmingly negative.  

The failure of For Colored Girls sent Perry straight back to the video market.  He continued to get limited theatrical releases on some of his films. Why Did I Get Married Too? was a tremendous flop of a movie that was more or less the same as the original and Perry was just as bland and boring in this film as ever.  Things looked almost over for Perry, but, for some strange reason, he was able to get a series of television shows lined up for TBS.  He would occasionally make cameo appearances as Madea on utterly bland, forgettable and meaningless family sitcoms like House of Payne and Meet the Browns (Hell, even the names scream “We are not even trying here”).  Still, things did not look good for Perry for several years.  

Still, somebody with a lot of money apparently likes this guy as he was able to land intermittent roles in major movies like Star Trek and Alex Cross.  He sucked in Star Trek (of course) but Alex Cross itself deserves some examination   Another trait Perry is often pegged with is his expression.  The one expression.  I have heard it described as an odd smile but to me it’s more like amused bewilderment.  He is so captivated by the fact that he is acting alongside people way more talented than him that he just cannot keep himself composed.  Perry spends the entirety of Alex Cross with this dumbass look on his face, as if he just thought of something really funny, but is trying to hold it in so as not to seem like a complete ass.  That, or he is perpetually constipated, either one is definitely possible.  Factor in the fact that the character of Alex Cross was cemented on film by none other than Morgan-FREAKING-Freeman and you can just see the embarrassing juxtaposition here.  Look at Along Came a Spider. Not one of Freeman’s better films, but he was still good in it.  Now, compare his performances as an aging-but-super-intelligent detective to that of Perry’s, which resembles a DMV worker about to close out his shift for a week’s vacation: bored but just a little happy that things are looking up.

What is worse is that Perry shows no signs of slowing down.  Even after a far-too-brief career rut, he has managed to maintain a degree of success in film, major or otherwise.  He’s also apparently still doing plays as well, so we have a lot of his bland, insipid, beige-ass writing and acting to look forward to in the future.  Yaaaaay... (said with all of the enthusiasm of a Tyler Perry character).

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